More And More Buildings Are Energy Stars

When I hear Energy Star, I think new, super-quiet dishwasher (and, man, could I use one). But Energy Star is about more than energy-efficient appliances; it’s also a commercial building certification program, administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

What Energy Star does is give a building a score between 1 and 100 based on its energy efficiency. The score is a percentile ranking, measured against a survey of comparable buildings. So a score above 75 means that a building is performing better on energy efficiency than at least 75 percent of similar buildings – and that happens to be the cutoff for earning Energy Star certification.

image via U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

image via U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

And here’s the good news: The number of Energy Star certified properties – as you can see in the above graph – is climbing fast. That’s especially impressive given that every year, as practices improve, buildings have to do even better to be in the top 25 percent. According to the EPA, those 20,000-plus Energy Star certified buildings in the U.S. are helping to save more than $2.7 billion in annual utility bills and preventing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the electricity use of more than 2 million homes.

Energy Star buildings are everywhere. We noted back in March that Washington, D.C., ranked a surprising second to Los Angeles on a city-by-city tally of Energy Star-certified buildings – surprising because big cities like Chicago, New York and Houston were way behind the nation’s capital. And now there’s another report [PDF] out that focuses on the Energy Star situation in Minnesota. There’s nothing about Minnesota that makes it more worthy of an Energy Star deep-dive than any other state, but the Great Plains Institute focuses on the Midwest, so there you go. And their report highlights the diversity of the buildings in the program.

On size, there’s the 5,000-square-foot Energy Management solutions office buildings in Chanhassen, which rang up a 98-point score 2012 – and at the other end of the spectrum is the Target Plaza, at 1,922,619 square feet (it scored 95 points in 2012).

Energy Star buildings

Even an 1860 building can be an Energy Star. (image via Google Street View)

Newer buildings are often built to be efficient but older buildings, retrofitted of course, are hardly left out in the cold. “Seven buildings in Minnesota with an Energy Star certification were built before 1900, and over 35 percent of all certified buildings in the state were built before 1980,” the report notes.  The oldest Energy Star building? That would be the building that is now  Donald’s Apparel & Uniform store St. Paul (pictures above), which was constructed in 1860 and became Energy Star certified exactly 150 years later.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.